Archives For David Roth

Photo by Kevin Dooley

Over the past week, the T-Wolves have been tremendously bad, probably the worst team in the NBA. They can’t hit a shot. They can’t prevent opponents from doing same. They’ve been outscored by 130 points over five games. Luckily (?) for us, this punishing awfulness has not gone unnoticed.

So what’s Milicic done so far this season? Basically, he’s been the league’s worst rotation player. Although Sunday night’s seven-point, three-rebound “outburst” kept his PER above zero, his defense has been as bad his offense, and only two players have played at least 100 minutes with a worse PER.

I can’t possibly contest any of these points. Darko is shooting 23% from the field. His defense has, indeed “been as bad as his offense”. He’s played with absurdly low energy. He has been really terrible. Right now, those four years (to be fair: three, plus an option year) are looking like a really bad deal. Still, Darko’s game has been so off that it can only seem like some strange aberration. I mean, he can’t possibly shoot 23% all year, right? I’m not saying he’s going to prove to be a steal, but I’m also not ready to call a move un-defensible after just seven games.

  • Dave Berri is tremendously confident in his own ability to understand professional basketball using math. That he seems to believe that the value of his metrics are self-evident (“as you can plainly see from so-and-so’s WinsProduced/48, so-and-so is bad at basketball” is a favored rhetorical device) and that he has a particularly clinical and bloodless view of the game  should not blind us to the essential truth that he’s helped uncover: basketball players tend to be judged mostly on the volume of points they pour in, but it’s things like rebounding, turnovers, shooting efficiency that actually produce wins (defense is notably absent from the discussion). So its interesting to note Berri’s take on the Kevin Love/Kurt Rambis soap opera. Berri observes (with many a chart and some cheap pop-psychology) that in his level of production, Love bears a striking resemblance to one Kurt Rambis, circa 1982. And most interestingly, that Rambis  seems to undervalue Love for the same reasons that Rambis himself was undervalued as a player:

Rambis, though, was a very productive non-scorer. And when we look at Kevin Love, we see a somewhat similar story. Love does take many more shots than Rambis. But Love’s low level of shooting efficiency means that few people are going to confuse Love with some of the game’s most productive scorers. Despite this inability to be an outstanding scorer, Love still produces wins because he is an amazing rebounder. Yes, much like his head coach – who also was a very good rebounder – Love can produce wins without being a prolific scorer.

Yup that is interesting (although, again, defense is not factored into the analysis). Here’s what I have to say right now about this fiasco.

First: I agree that Kevin Love is currently the Wolves best player and should be playing more (though he is currently tied for the team lead in minutes played). And that nurturing Love into a confident, committed pro should be among the team’s primary goals.

Second: the Wolves lost to Miami by 32. They lost to Orlando by 42 (million). Memphis by 20. Houston by 26. Would playing Kevin Love an extra five minutes a game really have altered any of these outcomes?

Third: Love got benched in the third quarter of the Atlanta game because he was playing listless, self-pitying basketball. He does that sometimes.

  • On the surface, this last thing has very little to do with the Timberwolves. But its some utterly righteous writing and has to do with Randy Moss and so should interest us. David Roth, a friend of this blog, writes about the professional football for the Awl. And when I say “writes about the professional football” I mean: embarks on dazzling, tangential voyages of cultural/political consciousness that end in fairly inaccurate NFL game predictions. Example: “the desperate narcissism and self-defeating vainglory that has degraded Moss from one of the NFL’s supreme talents into one of the NFL’s most toxic assets reflects the same anxiety that leads some Gadsden-Flag goof to slap a Hitler mustachio on a picture of Nancy Pelosi.” Right!? Here’s David this week (and you should really read this whole thing), on the strange tension between fabulous individual expression and communal self-sacrifice that make the NFL really compelling (this, by the way, has everything to do with the NBA):

What succeeding under these circumstances requires, finally, is less virtuosity than the humility and patience and, one more time, grace to trust in others and then the generosity to make one’s own brilliance more broadly valuable. Randy Moss, since he was very young, has been the fastest and most physically graceful human on the football field—it’s saying something about how fast and graceful he is that the statement is still true at age 33, after 13 seasons in the NFL. The problem—the thing that has made him this beautiful and despised vagabond, that has him heading to his fourth team in five years in something like disgrace—is partly that he seemingly cannot or will not trust in others, and mostly that he seemingly cannot fully comprehend the importance of a cause greater than himself.

This is a common enough thing. Trusting in and caring about other people is tough and scary and frankly weird given that we—Randy and the rest of us—are taught that it somehow makes you weak. But it is what being an adult demands, and the important thing is that you either do it or you don’t. You either believe in something bigger than yourself or you can’t.

Friends, the Wolves are 5-1.  Attempts to plumb the depths of this strange statistic for hidden meanings and portents will probably be futile. When we look back on this season in June, after the Wolves have either won 45 games or 14, have either blossomed with promise or collapsed into a quivering husk, we’ll say we knew which way the wind was blowing back in October. But that will be a lie: at this moment, we have no idea what this means. Best to simply, calmly inhale, exhale and accept it. Onward:

  • Here is a recap of the Wolves’ 99-88 comeback win over the Prince/Wallace/McGrady/Hamilton-less Pistons in Syracuse. Love that low angle:

  • And here are some equally cinema verite highlights of their 114-109 win over the Bucks in South Dakota. Check Darko’s dream-shake early in the clip:

  • In case you hadn’t noticed, in his past 53 minutes of play, Kevin Love has hit 21 of his 29 shots and pulled down 23 rebounds. That mythic 20/20 game is on the horizon.
  • Here in the Strib, Kurt Rambis reinforces our thought that depth and interchangeability in the lineup were major goals this past off-season:

“One of the things we wanted to have is a deep roster and the ability to change things around,” Rambis said. “I think we have enough flexibility with this team. With as many young players as we have, I don’t feel like I’ve got to lock myself into something, particularly at this stage of who we are as a ballclub.”

[Stern] generally comes out on top, or at least brings the league through unscathed at the end of the day. (Donaghy? Who?) He does so by making extreme overtures and overreactions that seek to nip public opinion in the bud. But down the road, almost all of these lunges prove to be just that: stunts to keep the heat off of this most vulnerable of pro sports leagues…It’s a game, one where blowhards get the hot air they so badly want, and players know that in the end, everything will even out.

David Roth is a tremendously fine writer and a good friend of this blog (I promise, this is not a joke about David Lee or his spandexed namesake–sometimes real life is more complicated and Paul Auster-y than I want to think about). Though he lives in New York, he grew up in idyllic suburban New Jersey and loves the Nets with a resigned nausea that we Wolves fans can’t even begin to imagine (give us another 20 years of this, though…). Like me, he appreciates the Summer League for its combination of unstructured, all-star game fabulosity, absurdly disjointed amateurishness (it takes 10 fouls to foul out!), and feverish, livelihood-on-the-line competition.

He’s also tuned in to the sad way that athletes who were once iconized for their physical talents can be sloughed off once the league and fans and the pundits agree that their lives as commodities have been used up. (As you may know, this is something that bothers me too; I was recently made awfully uneasy by the chilly, corporate way in which the Wolves cast off Ryan Gomes). As a Nets fan, Mr. Roth has carefully considered the sadly illustrative case of Shawne Williams, a basketball savant who is not very good at making decisions that do not involve dunking.

The piece is terrific and you should read the whole thing because it discusses not just Williams’s significant role in his own demise but also the rather thoughtless, machine-like way that we create narratives for elite athletes (although I think I’m supposed to warn you that its got some swears).  Also: the basketball card business, Darius Miles, Omar from the Wire and, of course, Ndudi Ebi :

The sort of sports fans who wonder what happens to athletes once they stop being the most special people in the room know how this goes. Which is to say that we were about to hear the last from Shawne Williams. When the promise is dispelled, the narrative trail goes dead. There are exceptions to that, if the failure to deliver on past promise is dramatic enough — here, for instance, is what Ed O’Bannon is up to these days — but, for the most part, ‘Where Are They Now’ is a rhetorical question.

Of course, the person who is also the player goes on doing whatever it was he did before the world started and stopped caring. He goes to jail for associating with the sort of visionaries who see a way to get high in a bottle of Triaminic or he goes to Europe and makes a bunch of money and learns a foreign language. Maybe he signs with a pro team in Iran, makes some money, writes a blog, and grows up into an interesting man or maybe he opens a barber shop or coaches or finds God or loses God or looks back and laughs or ferments in all that curdled narcissism into the meanest and most righteous sort of depressive. But all that happens off-camera, and to a certain extent the moral to Shawne Williams’ story, and that story’s ending, are already written, regardless of how the middle chapters fill in. The ending is yours to pick, not his: he’s another knucklehead not ready for the spotlight or unready for failure or an incautiously pampered kid who has never previously been required not to be lazy or a nice kid surrounded by bad influences or a helpless/hapless product of a rotten environment or whatever you choose.